How can Maryland students achieve proficiency in modern scientific advances when their high school labs might not even have test tubes or Bunsen burners?
How can these students compete for tomorrow's jobs in scientific fields when their classroom labs are so deficient some don't have gas jets, running water or fume hoods?
How can young Marylanders master new scientific disciplines without up-to-date computers and advanced software?
They can't -- which is why Committee on High School Science Labs for the 21st Century convinced Gov. William Donald Schaefer in May to allocate $2 million for a challenge grant program. In some cases, these grants will be used to improve safety conditions in school labs; in other cases, decent labs will be turned into first-rate facilities.
In typical Schaefer fashion, this money will be leveraged to gain contributions from local government and business. Dr. Michael Hooker, task force chairman, noted the $2 million would be a "spit in the ocean" if that were as far as improvements went. Refurbishing science labs and turning them into high-tech teaching venues will take major commitments from localities and industry.
But it is crucial that this take place. "The economic vitality and competitiveness of the state of Maryland will be increasingly dependent on having a population that is scientifically literate and contains growing numbers of skilled scientists and engineers," the committee reported. Superior science education in the schools is essential.
School systems are being encouraged to devise their own programs for creating new science labs and to make presentations to the state for this grant money. The projects must be in line with state and national goals of making math and science teaching relevant to modern-day applications. Business partnerships could play a big role in most of these undertakings.
This is a creative first step. It could spur new interest from private-sector companies to lend a hand in the schools. Revamping the way science is taught in the classroom has to happen if this state's students are to succeed in the next century's highly competitive marketplace. Modern science labs could make all the difference.